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21 Warning Signs of Alcoholism | QuitAlcohol.com

Reviewer Dr. Juan Harris MBA, MS, MCAP, CMHP, SAP, CIP, ICADC
Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Created On
Updated On

On any given day, there are 32 million Americans addicted to alcohol. It’s estimated that worldwide, two billion people consume alcohol with some regularity, and that at least one billion drink problematically. Back at home, well over 10% of our citizens are alcoholics. What’s perhaps more alarming is how few alcoholics receive the professional help they need. Also on any given day, approximately 700,000 people in the US receive treatment for alcohol. You could say alcohol is rather addictive.

Several reasons exist for why only 2.2% of American alcoholics get help. Surely the main reason is failure to recognize the signs of alcohol addiction. With 88,000 people dying each year from alcohol, these signs need to become more recognized.

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It would be nearly impossible to compile a list of every single sign of alcoholism. However, over many years, scientists and researchers around the world have compiled data, and several common signs of alcoholism have been established. Also, some not-so-common signs of alcohol addiction have emerged.

Using a multitude of resources, we decided there was a need for an easy-to-understand list of the warning signs of alcoholism. We also decided to make that list ourselves, so that you had a reference for these signs. Although surely not complete, as this list could never be, here is what we consider 21 warning signs of alcoholism to watch out for.

We split them into three categories: social (8), physical (7), and emotional (6). If you find yourself wondering whether or not you are an alcoholic and you are experiencing one or more of the following signs, please, seek help immediately. Alcohol destroys the human body, and it gets worse over time.

The Social Signs of Alcoholism

We wanted to start with social warning signs because there are more of them than any other category, but also because they are the easiest to recognize. Physical warning signs are just about equally as easy to detect, yet emotional warning signs can be a little trickier. Let’s begin – and once again, please seek immediate help if you find as you read that you show these signs. Alcoholism is no joke, and can take years to fully cure.

1. Trouble with the Law

The single most obvious social sign of alcoholism is having gotten into legal trouble because of drinking. We’re not talking about your one-time offense back in college. We’re talking DWI, arrest for public intoxication, or criminal charges as a result of being drunk. An example would be robbing a store or assaulting someone while you were drunk, when otherwise you never would have. Basically, if the law is aware of your drinking, you may well be an alcoholic. Plus, if alcohol has gotten you into legal trouble, chances are your drinking habits are unhealthy.

2. Crooked Priorities

You know how people say that you’ve got to keep your priorities straight? Well, if and when drinking alcohol outweighs your everyday life responsibilities, consider your priorities crooked. Responsible drinking occurs once all other things are taken care of. Problematic drinking occurs while or instead of doing all other things.

Alcohol should never be a priority, and should never stand in the way of your responsibilities as an adult. Severe examples include neglecting your loved ones due to drinking, spending bill money on alcohol, and/or choosing booze over going to work. Less severe examples include drinking instead of participating in social events or replacing healthy hobbies with getting drunk. If you find your priorities are crooked because of alcohol, regardless of the severity, you may be an alcoholic.

3. Affected Relationships

It’s never good if and when drinking starts to negatively affect your personal relationships. It might start with an angry significant other who wants you to quit. Then, you might start neglecting your children a little. If you don’t have kids, or a significant other, maybe you are neglecting your friends. Worse yet, maybe you’re not neglecting at all, but being unfairly aggressive instead. Drinking alcohol in excess causes one to be irritable, argumentative, and even abusive toward others… or to the self.

If you find that your relationship with others, or with yourself, is being damaged by alcohol, then you may be developing alcoholism. Drinking should never affect the way we co-exist with the people we see on a regular basis, especially those we love.

4. Telling Lies

If you find yourself lying about your drinking habits to others, this is a warning sign of alcoholism. Those who are not at risk of developing an addiction to alcohol will feel no need to hide their drinking habits. This also ties into the previous sign, as lying will eventually corrode your relationships.

5. Making Excuses

Justifying excessive drinking can be pretty easy for an alcoholic. However, here’s a newsflash… scoring a perfect game at bowling night is no reason for a 12-pack to yourself. Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is one thing, but celebrating President’s Day with getting drunk is a warning sign. Basically, if you find yourself making excuses in order to drink more, there’s a definite chance you’re developing a problem.

6. Bad Company

If you find your friend group to consist of heavy drinkers, and if you find that you and your friends often get drunk when together, this may be an issue. However, this is a different kind of social warning sign altogether. Friendships are acquired over a lifetime, and the issue of surrounding yourself with bad company can be a touchy one. However, you should always be your top priority. If you find that you associate with people who drink often, take a timeout – or reconsider the friendships. You may have a problem with alcohol developing or waiting to develop.

7. No Company

drinking-aloneDrinking heavily alone is arguably worse than drinking heavily with pals. Drinking alone, or isolating yourself because of your drinking, is an explicit warning sign of alcoholism. Non-alcoholics rarely get intoxicated alone. Now, we don’t mean that one time you bought a bottle of liquor because your ex dumped you and you drank it alone in front of the TV. We mean getting drunk alone for no good reason. Solo drinking is problem drinking.

8. Poor Performance

The final social warning sign of alcoholism comes if and when you find your performance at school or work is suffering due to alcohol. Replacing study time with drinking time, or being so hungover you can’t function at work, could indicate an alcohol addiction forming. This links back to having crooked priorities. If your performance is poor because of alcohol, then it’s likely your drinking habits are poor as well.

The Physical Signs of Alcoholism

The physical warning signs of alcoholism are relatively straightforward. Although most of them could be exhibited by a non-alcoholic, this is why they are warning signs, and not symptoms. That being said, pay close attention to this section, as your health may depend on it.

1. High Tolerance

Building a tolerance to alcohol is a very bad sign. This means your body has become used to the presence of alcohol, and will require more and more to attain intoxication. The higher your tolerance, the more likely you are an alcoholic. It really is that blunt. Nobody should have to consume an entire 12-pack of beer in order to achieve a buzz.

2. No Limit

Drinking more than you intended to is a sign of alcohol abuse. Drinking until you literally can’t drink anymore is a sign of alcoholism. Those in control of their drinking are able to set limits and not exceed them. Alcoholics are literally incapable of adhering to such limits. If you find yourself constantly craving another drink, regardless of intoxication level, check yourself. Alcoholism may be getting the best of you. [Note: Depending on gender, body shape, age, and other factors, ‘limits’ are different for all people. Know your own limits.]

3. Losing Your Memory

Memory loss from drinking, whether for one night or for years, is a surefire warning sign of alcoholism. To blackout from booze means two things. One is you have consumed enough alcohol to give yourself temporary amnesia. Two is you are well on your way to becoming an alcoholic. Memory loss is an extremely common symptom of alcoholism and with persistent heavy drinking over years, permanent forms of amnesia can develop.

4. Drinking on the Daily

If you drink alcohol on a daily basis, chances are you’re an alcoholic. Even a couple of beers, if consumed every night, is at least a warning sign if not alcoholic behavior. Nobody should consume alcohol every day – not even that fabled glass of red wine. Studies are beginning to show how even that can negatively affect your health.

If you find yourself getting drunk every day, then you absolutely are an alcoholic, and you need to seek help immediately, for your own sake.

5. Risky Business

If you drink alcohol in dangerous situations or in places where drinking is inappropriate, this is a warning sign of alcohol addiction. The single riskiest behavior associated with drinking is driving. Now, driving under the influence is never acceptable. However, when it comes to signs of alcoholism, we aren’t referring to that one time you drove to the store with a slight beer buzz. We mean repeatedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

Also, things like sneaking alcohol into the movies, going to school drunk, or secretly drinking at night when everyone is asleep are warning signs. If you are drinking where unacceptable, you may have an alcohol addiction.

6. Appearance Change

If you are falling behind on your hygiene because of drinking, or if you find your appearance becoming shoddy due to drinking, you may just want to stop drinking. This is a sign of alcoholism.

7. Withdrawal Symptoms (physical)

A night on the town can do you some harm come the next morning. However, if you find yourself waking up feeling hungover but did not drink the night before, you may be experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which is a very serious sign of alcoholism.


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The Emotional Signs

Lastly we have the emotional warning signs of alcoholism, which aren’t as obvious as, say, skipping work or drinking at church. These are signs that need to be evaluated in order to ensure that alcohol is the source. Otherwise, they may just be the result of something else in your life.

1. Denial

An old saying goes something like, ‘if you have to ask, you probably are,’ when it comes to being an alcoholic. Basically, if you wonder whether or not you are, you probably are. Worse yet, if you deny that you have a problem, there’s a great chance you’ve developed alcoholism. Again, it is possible to not have a problem with alcohol, to be accused, and to deny it. However this is a rare case and all in all you know who you are.

2. Shame

Another noteworthy emotional warning sign of alcoholism is feeling shame about your drinking. If you feel this way, you have likely crossed the line from drinker to addict, and this applies to all substance addictions. Shame brought on by consuming a substance is a strong indicator of addiction.

3. Concerning Others

This actually has nothing to do with you. It involves those you know. If your family or friends or coworkers are concerned with your drinking, you may be an alcoholic. Sometimes it’s easier for others to see your problem. If you have others concerned for you, then you may want to take a closer look.

4. Imbalance of Emotion

Alcoholics tend to experience mood swings, and to not be able to maintain one emotion for very long. In alcoholics, emotional imbalance will flare if unable to drink. If you feel your emotional balance being disturbed when not drinking, chances are you are developing an addiction.

5. Defensiveness

If you have to literally defend your drinking to someone, provided that someone is reasonable, then you very well may be an alcoholic. No responsible drinker should have to argue for how much he or she has consumed. Defending your sobriety while drunk is even more indicative of a problem.

Withdrawal Symptoms (emotional)

Feeling depression when not drinking is another major alcoholic warning sign. It is not normal to feel sad or upset without booze. Alcoholics tend to crave drinking so much that without it, they feel depressed. This is because the brain is malfunctioning.

In Conclusion

You should now have a good understanding of what to look for as signs of alcoholism. If you are experiencing any of these signs, we cannot stress enough how important it is for you to seek help today. Do not become one of the 88,000. If you or a loved one is showing one or more of these signs of alcoholism do not hesitate to call us at PHONE NUMBER, check out our list of the Top 10 Best Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers in the USA or go to SAMHSA to find a treatment center near you.

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